2Fik, "Le Sultan Abdel" (2013) (courtesy the artist)

2Fik, “Le Sultan Abdel” (2013) (courtesy the artist)

Editor’s note: Presented here is a response by the artist 2Fik to the deadly attack on the office of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris on January 7, 2015.

*   *   *

I was sitting in my office on Wednesday morning when I learned with surprise, stupor, and fear of the horror of the Charlie Hebdo attack. This moment struck me three times, because of three of my different social identities: an Arab, an artist, and a Frenchman.

The Arab in me thought: “Here we go again…”

On September, 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center attacks, I was living back in Paris and quickly discovered the humiliation of being judged and analyzed from head to toe by each and every person because of my physical appearance, which reads as Muslim. Though I am an agnostic, many people take me to be a Muslim because of my appearance, because they think that every man with North African heritage who sports a beard is one.

It would be great if people could make the distinction between extremists (men crazy about religion who kill in the name of archaic beliefs) and Muslims (people who have faith in a monotheistic religion). Muslims are not extremists. They are believers. Saying that “all Muslims are extremists” is just like saying that “every pair of high-heeled shoes is going to hurt your feet”: this is a basic, general view that means nothing. You have to take into consideration the passion that a person puts into their actions and the social context.

The artist in me is promising: “I won’t give in to fear.”

After reacting as an Arab, I then reacted as an artist. To me, an artist who dies for their art is nearly the most beautiful expression of their success. This is where my obvious love of drama and theatrics becomes apparent. Moreover, as cheesy as it sounds, Charb’s affirmation resonated with me: “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” At 11:15am, I shed my first tear of the day. I then received some death threats. My favorite was: “I will follow you, fuck you up, and chop your head off.” Included was a reworked Microsoft Paint photo of yours truly, decapitated. This loser didn’t even know how to use Photoshop! Bless his heart.

I’m no stranger to this tiny moment of cold sweat dripping down my neck when I ask myself whether or not I should continue making art. Instinctively, my reaction was: “Fuck it! I will do even more and piss off all of you extremist bastards.” Political cartoonists, just like every person today who expresses her or his vision of the world through art, is saying to extremists: “Fuck you! We’ll do our job anyway!”

The Frenchman in me thinks: “Damn! We failed.”

Finally, after the Arab and the artist in me responded, the Frenchman in me was sad. Sad to know that these men, born in France, fell into radicalism in the heart of Paris; sad to know that so many families have lost their loved ones; sad to think that maybe France has missed the mark when it comes to ensuring the integration of the first generation of French-born immigrants.

I am sad to know that my sister will be worried when she walks down the streets and that my brother will have to live his religion in secrecy. This is the absolute opposite of the principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity upon which France was built. I have no doubt that the French will stand up against this awful and disgusting act. The extremists wanted to hurt France, but I think that they have made it stronger. Funnily enough, a journal that was on the verge of closing down will now be reborn out of the ashes of this tragedy with more readers, more solidarity, and more French pride than ever.

2Fik is a French multidisciplinary artist based in Montreal.

46 replies on “A Response to the ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Attack, from an Arab, Artist, and Frenchman”

  1. Forgive me I am not as esoteric as all the wonderful cultured Parisians and artists << not Arab Muslims because all I hear from and about them is how they commit suicide, kill maim, commit terror etc. I don't see their modern art, music or even medicine if I get sick. Will someone tell me what good they are as far as civilation or anything the rest of us would want to be??

    1. it’s not a matter of being esoteric but misinformed, which often happens if you only read the main media once they only post what sells or what they’re paid for. If you go deeper or beyond that you’ll find much more about the Arab Muslims legacy in history, science, arts, architecture, photography, mathematics. The Bamako Encounters (Mali) for example have brought visibility to African contemporary photography and video art. Mali brought to the world a tremendous legacy in literature, architecture and visual arts.
      One of the most fascinating old cultures is without any doubt the Persian, land of Zoroaster (the oldest monotheistic religion), Lord of Wisdom, also known as Zarathustra, whom you might know from Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” book.

      Persia is one of the world’s oldest civilisations. Persian culture, including religion to literature, science or arts has then being constantly underrated. Goethe considered Persian literature as one of the main bodies of world’s literature, and it is known that it influenced him deeply, although only a few poets as Rumi and Omar Khayyám have surfaced among western popular readership, even though the likes of Hafez, Saadi, Nizami, Attar, Sanai, Nasir Khusrawand Jami are considered by many Iranians to be just as influential.

      On philosophy, Zarathushtra entered to influence Western tradition through Judaism, and therefore on Middle Platonism. Like that of most of the world’s cultures, the music of Persia has depended on oral/aural transmission and learning. Persian Symphonic Music has also a long history. In fact Opera originated from Persia, much before its emergence in Europe.

      Also curious, the oldest records of animation was in Iran, and it dates back to late half of 3rd millennium B.C.

      Rhazes (Abu Bark Al-Razi 865-925) was a Persian alchemist and philosopher, one of the greatest physicians in history. Persians also made important contributions to algebra and chemistry invented the wind-power machine, and the first distillation of alcohol. In the 10th century work of Shahnameh, Ferdowsi describes a Caesarean section performed on Rudabeh, during which a special wine agent was prepared by a Zoroastrian priest and used to produce unconsciousness for the operation: the knowledge of anaesthesia in ancient Persia.

      In 1000 AD, Biruni wrote an astronomical encyclopaedia, which discussed that the earth rotates around the sun. This was before Tycho Brahe drew the first maps of the sky, using stylized animals to depict the constellations. Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham is known as the father of optics for his writings on, and experiments with, lenses, mirrors, refraction, and reflection. He correctly stated that vision results from light that is reflected into the eye by an object, not emitted by the eye itself and reflected back, as Aristotle believed. He solved the problem of finding the locus of points on a spherical mirror from which light will be reflected to an observer. From his studies of refraction, he determined that the atmosphere has a definite height and that twilight is caused by refraction of solar radiation from beneath the horizon.

      Biruni was the first scientist to formally propose that the speed of light is finite, before Galileo tried to experimentally prove this.

      In 813 AD astronomical tables were prepared by Persian al-Khwarizmi using Hindu numerals, and about 825 AD, he published a book synthesizing Greek and Hindu knowledge and also contained his own contribution to mathematics including an explanation of the use of zero. This book was later translated into Latin in the 12th century under the title Algoritmi de numero Indorum. This title means “al-Khwarizmi on the Numerals of the Indians”. The word “Algoritmi” was the translator’s Latinization of Al-Khwarizmi’s name, and the word “Algorithm” or “Algorism” started meaning any arithmetic based on decimals.

      Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Khwarizmi, in 976 AD, stated that if no number appears in the place of tens in a calculation, a little circle should be used “to keep the rows”. This circle was called ṣifr. Zero.

      Kamal al-Din Al-Farisi (1267–1318) is known for giving the first mathematically satisfactory explanation of the rainbow, and an explication of the nature of colours that reformed the theory of Ibn al-Haytham. Al-Farisi also “proposed a model where the ray of light from the sun was refracted twice by a water droplet, one or more reflections occurring between the two refractions. He verified this through extensive experimentation using a transparent sphere filled with water and a camera obscura.

      More recently, another relevant fact of Persian culture was photography, its dominance and influence: It was due to Naser al-Din Shah Qajar, King of Iran from 1848 to 1896, that photography took relevance in Persian culture. Naser al-Din Shah Qajar was very interested in painting and photography, so he became one of the first Persian photographers and patron of photography, establishing a photography studio in Golestan Palace. He was the first Iranian to be photographed and has a patron of photography he had himself photographed hundreds of times. (see “Notes on Persia Photography”, on 2HeadS blog)

      This fact is quite interesting, as he made a cultural revolution doing so: Islam never approved portraits or depictions of humans to avoid vanity and worship, opposite to Catholicism, also patrons of arts. Islam had it quite clear, but with the discovering of photography it seems that few rules changed allowing portraits as far as they’re not for worship reasons (nor immorality, hatred or satire) – only for good purposes, like remembering someone or medical studies. So Naser al-Din Shah Qajar explained, or excused: while painted portraits could be creative and make the portrayed one better or worst, photography was real, so it was just a print of a reflection, the same as we can see if we put a mirror in front of us. Photography was then a reflection: a mirrored image.

      Sorry for so long reply, but in fact there’s much more of their legacy that remained in our western world. And as you can see we do owe a lot to them.

      1. Dear friend, you are talking of centuries ago, even before Mohamed. No doubts on all you wrote. I have Sicilian blood and arabs contribute to refine and fill the island’s culture. That was centuries ago, today, what you are saying does not exist anymore. We are in the 21st century, please tell me some cultural or whatever you want achievement from the arab culture.

          1. thanks for the list, I very much appreciate… going through it very briefly I just saw a nobel prize in 1979 and some pioneers in mechanic, health, etc, many of the ones I clicked on, lived in Europe or in the United States. For a personal admission in a meeting of the Arab League in Geneva UN siege, the Organization of Arab States asked its member countries to reduce military expenditures to increase health, education, research and in general national social improvement. That means that you can have some personal special brain here and there… (you have those everywhere, in Colombia, Brazil, Haiti, etc.) The majority of the people in the list you gently sent me, (as I stated in my previous message) lived way longer before the last 2-3 centuries.

        1. The Bamako Encounters (Mali) is a contemporary biennial of photography, and it will happen this year http://www.biennialfoundation.org/biennials/rencontres-de-bamako-biennale-africaine-de-la-photographie

          Some contemporary photographers: Shirin Neshat (you might have seen her work already), Shadi Ghadirian, Gohar Dashti or Mitra Tabrizian from Iran. Samer Mohdad from Lebanon. Tanya Habjouqa, Muslim from Jordan is a 2014 World Press Award winner for Daily Life, and he is also Magnun photographer. Majid Saeedi, who won the 1st prize at the 2014 edition of Lucas Dolega Award held in Paris.

          (photograph by Majid Saeedi)

          1. Do they allow Israeli photographers to compete. I have seen some very good work by them with some of the most wonderful models in the whole world Israeli, Russian, French and Arab among others.

          2. Sherin Neshat also for her wonderful art films. Another extraordinary contemporary Iranian artist is Shoja Azari.

        2. and if I may, this is worth listening to: the album “Liqua”, from the Tunisian Anouar Brahem, here in Trio with Jan Garbarek and Manu Katche. You can find it on youtube by “Liqua – Anouar Brahem Trio”.

      2. Mr. [by the picture] Benard; Thank you for your very knowledgeable and informing response. However It does not explain how the Persians [Iranians] have turned into such a suicidal world threatening culture that they have degenerated to today. ps. The one thing you omitted was the threat to the photographers by the deists. Again thank you and I wish that it were your civility and learnedness that can recover the leadership of that part of the world.

      3. Regurgitation of fact is not an indication of intelligent informed comment or wisdom or knowledge about anything. I am suprised Mr Benard that you don’t know that PERSIANS ARE NOT ARABS.They are not now and never have been. http://www.persiansarenotarabs.com/ .Recent Arab contributions to world culture i.e. music, painting, sculpture,dance, film, theatre /worldpeace/enlightened philosophical thought/medical and scientific advances? Please supply examples. I don’t think you will find many as Islam doesn’t permit devout believers to partake. Example: playing musical instruments – Islam doesn’t permit it http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1291218/Muslim-pupils-taken-music-lessons-Islam-forbids-playing-instrument.html

    2. If you cannot see or hear any art, music, science from Arab and Persian civilisations then you’re watching too much fox news or something. Astonishes me that people blame the other for not having a presence when they’ve never bothered to look for it. Blame yourself for being blind. Did you know there are some talented people in Asia too? FFS!

    3. Your words should help you understand precisely how marginalised Contemporary Muslim Culture is, particularly in a modern discourse which does nothing to investigate it or reveal it.

      1. Where do you find evidence that Wade M. Page was a Christian? Do you have information of where he went to church? Can you cite any passages from the Bible that inspired Page to go on his shooting spree? I guess in your bigoted world, mass murdering neo-Nazi, white supremacist, equates to CHRISTIAN.

          1. Being part of the Christian Identity movement does not make you a “Christian”…..huge difference. It is shocking that you don’t know that. And the fact that you continue with these types of angry anti-Christian comments means that you are either a liar, an idiot, or both. Obfuscation is a strong contributing factor in my determination of idiot vs: ignorant. Ignorant is simply a lack of knowledge. Idiot…well… You might want to pull your head out of it’s inverted anal sheath before your islamophucs cut it off

          2. In your opinion, it doesn’t make you a Christian. Much in the same way many Muslim would say the people who did this are not “Muslim.” Thanks for proving why you should be banned in these comments.

          3. And it is also a good idea to revert to anger and name calling when in an argument because usually it convinces others you are really smart and that you are not at all scared that your world view is crumbling.

  2. Insightful. I was however, saddened a bit when he called people who don’t know photo-shop losers. I’m a painter, and anti-photo-shop. I prefer to work with my hands. Besides, photo-shop is expensive software. Certainly the man who made the death threat decapitation picture is a loser, but not because he doesn’t know photo-shop. 2Fik’s comment seems grossly out of place.

    1. I think that the point was that the loser who sent a death threat sent a poorly done image, not that people who don’t know how to use Photoshop are losers.

  3. I am pleased to read this article. There is always a big problem: the islam leaders, whoever they are, (catholics have a Pope, I never understood who is the main authority in Islam); they never condemn strongly such attacks. We can read one declaration here and there, nothing so strong and decisive. That’s where I see some complicity and silent consent.

    1. The reality of “extreme Islam” versus “moderate Islam” that we witness today is that extremists want to kill everyone who is not a muslim, and moderates support the extremists in their goals.

      We today witness this dialogue between ‘extreme’ versus ‘moderate’ unfolding before our eyes, living as we do in a bizarre era where so many people in a position to support those who stand for freedom and justice choose instead to support forces of evil, all in the name of compassion.

      Why, in a world where we know what Islam stands for – brutality towards women, murder of gays, suppression of freedom, genocidal aspirations toward the Jews – can people elevate Islam and it’s aspirations? The answer lies in evil’s ability to hide in the shadows and escape the light of scrutiny. To cower behind lies and propaganda that ensnare the ignorant and befuddle the blind. It is found in the refusal to analyze and scrutinize their own biases and to uncover the contradictions and fallacies that pervade their thinking.

      1. In the spirit of your own critique, where do you find evidence that moderate Muslims support extremists? Some Muslims do support the various deplorable beliefs and actions you list, but so do many people from various religions and nationalities. Do you equally condemn all white people because of white supremacist groups or all Indians for militant Hindus and all Sikhs or all Mexicans for Christian inspired drug cartels?

          1. My response to Shawn Chapman was to point out the logical, and equally factual, fallacy in his/her remarks. Though I was focusing more on the former than the latter in my response. These fallacies both lie in assuming that because some in a group do something, all do it. This is clearly not the case.

            Your conclusion derived from the Pew link is a different case. If one reads the link, it isn’t exactly as you characterize it. It says that a majority of Muslims in Muslim dominated countries support Sharia law but differ in opinion on what exactly Sharia law is. I’ll quote one section that applies to this specific story as well as refuting Shawn Chapman’s views:

            “Muslims around the world strongly reject violence in the name of Islam. Asked specifically about suicide bombing, clear majorities in most countries say such acts are rarely or never justified as a means of defending Islam from its enemies.”

            And furthermore:

            “The survey finds little evidence that attitudes toward violence in the name of Islam are linked to factors such as age, gender or education. Similarly, the survey finds no consistent link between support for enshrining sharia as official law and attitudes toward religiously motivated violence.”

            What ‘false’ dichotomies, specifically, are you referring to?

  4. This is an extremely inspiring article that gives me hope. Thank you for writing it.

    I just want to say that as a secular person of Israeli nationality (so I really am speaking from “the other side of the fence” as it may be drawn) I fully agree with you, and that no amount of attempts by various scoundrels and militants to paint all Muslims and Arabs black would succeed in my eyes.

    Cheers and the best of wishes!

  5. ‘sad to think that maybe France has missed the mark when it comes to ensuring the integration of the first generation of French-born immigrants.’..that’s all you have to say about racist, Islamophobic France?..

    Muslims in French jail”This prison is majority Muslim — as is virtually every house of incarceration in France. About 60 to 70 percent of all inmates in the country’s prison system are Muslim, according to Muslim leaders, sociologists and researchers, though Muslims make up only about 12 percent of the country’s population. “

  6. Beautifully said <3… But I do disagree on one point, all those high heels DO hurt! Je suis Charlie.

  7. Devout Muslims read the Quran every day. I have listed below the passage from the Quran that seems to DEMAND Muslims kill ‘Unbelievers’, and it is this passage in the Quran that has led to many beheadings and other murders of ‘Unbelievers’. I would like a ‘moderate’ Muslim to explain this passage from the Quran and explain why ALL Muslims don’t obey this passage and perform MORE beheadings – because MOST of the people of the world are ‘Unbelievers’ in Islam and always WILL be Unbelievers :

    Muhammad 47:4 “Therefore when ye meet the Unbelievers chop
    off their necks; at length when ye have thoroughly subdued them
    bind a bond firmly (on them).

  8. I love the way France, and the French victims are blamed. Somehow, it’s all France’s fault. This article is disingenuous at best. The writer is immature and narcissistic. Somehow, the murdered victims have turned into all about him. Referencing the World Trade Center – again, all about how it will affect him. The lack of any empathy or being able to relate to the other in any genuine connection, and the lack of a sense of responsibility and allegiance as a fellow French citizen are unwittingly revealing. Notice, mention of Northern African ties, no mention of the recent Boko Haram massacre – the selectivity of what world events and geography are advanced or omitted shows how he identifies self as both the hero and the persecuted. The only point of any relation with the real victims is in the compartmentalization as artist and in that synopsis, is a muddle in the slight connection that was a skim of the surface of how an Islamic terrorist group silenced through murder, a group of politically outspoken artists and journalists – and all this happened to inspire him further and more fervently as an artist – unfortunately, at the expense of the victims – props and backdrop to his starring role. This self-proclaiming essay appropriates the real and national martyrdom of these artists and journalists and makes the martyr the poor, long suffering Arab French artist.

  9. Abdel, Having worked a couple of archaeological seasons in Turkey, I made many friends and hold no prejudice against most Sufi or other very moderate Muslims. I believe that you are very mistaken about what Christianity is; do you realize that it is monotheistic? Yes, various sects such as Catholics speak very mistakenly about three gods – Christianity is about one God. For me, that God is nature, the amazing world built on millennia of decay but always renewed. For me, a fellow artist, writer, professor… science is a path that I take seriously; the heart of a genuine artist is another path. There are virtues in most of the world’s religions but in the end, self awareness provides humans with a gift to understand life and while we live, every effort should be dedicated to understanding and nurturing productive life.

    It would be grand to chat with you some time but I speak neither Arabic nor French. I tend to like the Turkish ” Allahaismarladik” but then the Christian, Buddhist, and many other religions hold to the same finding that God is One.

    1. I’m of the God is None belief and I like the “some of my best friends are…” line of jokes, so..
      some of my best friends are artists, Muslims and French.
      I’ve never heard of anyone maliciously targeting them for what they are.
      I’ve heard rumors.

  10. i read the article and then a few comments below and it’s sad that that this article has been so misunderstood and now i don’t know what to think…

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